Jesse Turkson (above) and Haverford College are off to a 10-2 start, including 5-0 in the Centennial Conference. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
HAVERFORD — It had been nearly a decade since Haverford won 10 games in a season.
During that time, the Fords changed coaches, lost 128 of 173 games and missed out on the Centennial Conference tournament in seven straight seasons.
Then last year, that unwanted streak came to a screeching halt in February, on a Saturday in Westminster, Md. With a two-point overtime win at McDaniel, the Fords picked up that 10th win.
But don’t look now — Haverford is off to its best start since the 1976-77 season, and has already hit the 10-win plateau after surging past Washington College on Thursday night.
“You don’t just get a winning culture overnight,” said senior Jesse Turkson, who leads the Fords in both scoring (14.6/game) and rebounding (9.8/game). “Our coach has a really big emphasis on the details, and as time has progressed…we’ve been a lot more comfortable with the system.”
That coach is Pat Doherty, a longtime Lafayette assistant who helped the Leopards to just their fourth NCAA tournament appearance in 2015. A little more than two years later, Doherty was named the Fords’ head coach, taking helm of a post held by Michael Mucci for more than two decades.
Winning didn’t come right away, however. Haverford lost 15 of its 18 conference games during that 2017-18 season.
And Doherty had to get some of his recruits in the program, although four of this year’s six leading scorers were already with the Fords.
“I tried really hard not to think about this program or these players as anybody other than our guys,” Doherty said. “I’m now more comfortable with an understanding of the talent level, the guys we have in the program and what roles they’re best suited in.
“In my first two years, we were just trying to figure that out. So yes, we’re further along. And I did not anticipate that we were ready to win games — maybe we weren’t at our best this year, but I think that’s a testament to the seniors. … They’ve been outstanding leaders in our program.”
One of those six seniors is Jonathan Lang, a 6-foot-4 forward who is averaging 11.3 points per game and shooting nearly 44 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
“It helps that we have six seniors who have been here for four years [and] we’ve been under a coach where we weren’t successful,” Lang said. “We know what habits make a team successful and we’ve seen transitions that good teams have, and I think we’re just more comfortable.”
That comfortability showed in a 70-61 win against Delaware Valley last Friday. After falling behind 11-4 in the opening minutes, Doherty called an early timeout to get his team back on track.
It certainly seemed to do the trick. The Fords turned on the jets with a 30-8 run before taking a 51-26 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
While Haverford got usual contributions from its veterans — Turkson, a Philadelphia native and Masterman alum, paced the Fords with nine rebounds and Lang shot 5-of-8 on his way to 15 points — it was the hot shooting of freshman Dhruv Mehrotra that stole the show.
The rookie from Pune, India spent his high school years at Blue Ridge School, a boarding school just outside of Charlottesville, Va., before coming to the Main Line this fall. And though his minutes have been limited — as has been the case for all four of Doherty’s freshmen — he made the most of them against Delaware Valley, hitting five triples in just 15 minutes en route to a team-best 17 points.
Pat Doherty (above) has been instrumental in helping turn the Fords around in his three seasons. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“The freshmen are terrific,” Turkson said. “That really pushes [the upperclassmen] to be better. While we’re trying to lead them and lead by example, they’re also leading us at the same time.”
All that said, there’s important context to consider when it comes to Haverford’s hot start, which has them just one of two unbeaten teams in the Centennial Conference, along with Swarthmore.
The Fords have played all their Centennial games against teams with sub-.500 conference records and haven’t been truly tested outside of league play.
That’s not to mention a surprising 86-72 loss at previously 3-8 Immaculata earlier this week, a game in which Haverford committed 16 turnovers and shot just 38.1 percent from the field.
It’s nights like those that remind Doherty why he and his team can’t afford to look ahead, especially in the midst of a long season.
“I’m not really thinking about later on in January or February. I know how good the teams are that we have coming up,” Doherty said. “Anybody that’s paying attention to the league knows that the standard is incredibly high. And we have the top-ranked team in the country just down the road, so our guys know that.”
That No. 1 team would be Swarthmore, who the Fords visit in just a few days. The 12-0 Garnet are coming off a 29-4 season in which they won the Centennial Conference tournament and finished as national runners-up.
Swarthmore has been atop the Division III rankings all season long, boasts five players averaging double figures and is beating its opponents by more than 13 points per game.
So even with all Haverford has already accomplished this season, there’s little time to marvel — and certainly no time to worry about those who still might not believe in the Fords.
“I don’t have much to say to the doubters,” Lang said. “I’ve definitely thought about the fact that we’ve come a long way. But I’m really just in the moment right now.”